The northern New Hampshire inn where I’m spending the summer is haunted. I’ve not seen any first-hand evidence. But others report a recurring manifestation of dead flies in certain rooms; mysterious whistling in the kitchen; sudden loud knocks or extreme drops in temperature. A child played with an unseen friend. The dog refused to climb the Tower stairs. Oh, yes. A Tower. Any of these occurrences on their own might be explained. Put them all together? You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out the setting of my next book.
So one of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival panels that grabbed my attention was The Devil You Don’t Know: Otherworldly Forces in Fiction.
- Christian Baines – Australian author of The Beast Without (sexy vampires & werewolves)
- ‘Nathan Burgoine – Canadian debut novelist of Light (psychokinetic gay superhero);
- Marie Castle – small-town Mississippi debut author of Hell’s Belle (lesbian witches & immortals)
- Christopher Rice – NYT bestselling author of The Heavens Rise (supernatural bayou parasites)
New Orleans mystery writer J.M. Redmann moderated the proceedings.
“We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.” – Changling, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Why are LGBTQ writers and readers drawn horror and the supernatural? Burgoine said we are “the other.” But we don’t realize it at first. Castle noted Dr. Frankenstein is the real monster in Shelley’s story. The creature just wants to be normal. Baines added that monsters also experience fear and anger. Rice agreed. Villains don’t believe they’re evil. By depicting outsiders we can demystify today’s culture of fear. It’s a comfort to know there’s magic in the world, admitted Burgoine.
The discussion didn’t include ghosts, but there was a lot to consider about morally dubious characters, the power of revenge, and how redemption can be sexy. At the end, when asked what superpower the authors would most like to have, teleportation was far and away the most popular. I should also mention that the debut novels of ‘Nathan Burgoine and Marie Castle are both Finalists for a Lambda Literary Award in the SciFi/Fantasy/Horror category. And Christopher Rice was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award this year. Queer horror is alive and undead!
The other panel of particular interest to me was Death and Desire, with its focus on gay and lesbian mysteries. (Have I mentioned that my debut psychological thriller Calvin’s Head will come out in September?) All the writers on this panel have won Lambda Literary Best Mystery Awards, which includes thrillers and suspense – but I’ll save discussion of genre labels for another time.
- Greg Herren – New Orleans author of Chanse McCleold & Scotty Bradley series
- Anne Laughlin – Chicago author of four stand-alone novels
- J.M. Redmann – New Orleans author of Mickey Knight series
- Jeffrey Round – Canadian author of Bradford Fairfax and Dan Sharpe series
Moderator Carol Rosenfeld set the tone when she began by asking if characters lived out the authors’ desires. Herren said when young he was afraid and writing was a way to face his fears. Her characters were not her, Laughlin stated. But could reflect the shadow part of us. Round gives his characters normal lives because he wants to feel normal. And Redmann expressed an interest in why bad guys make their choices.
As for sex in mysteries? The general consensus, according to Herren, is no sex in mysteries, especially mainstream. But there’s an assumption of sex in gay mysteries. Redmann feels the rules don’t apply to us, having crossed the more critical LGBTQ boundary. For Laughlin, the question is always: Too much or too little? Round almost had a book pulled by a conservative publisher for too much sex. However, two editors pushed back and the novel ended up winning a Lammy. I’m not sure exactly how, but the discussion turned to the sex life of Miss Marple. Did she have one? Would Agatha Christie sell more books if they included sex? (Forget that she’s the bestselling author of all time anyway.)
It’s too late to reconsider the sex scenes in my first novel, as it heads to the printer. But what about the next one? Hmmm. Just recently I saw an article where actress Natasha Blasick, star of the horror film Paranormal Activity, claimed: “I had sex with a ghost.” (No further comment.)
Across the Pond
The kick-off for June – Month of the Thriller (Maand van het Spannende Boek) took place in Amsterdam last night. A featured guest was British author David Hewson, who I met at ThrillerFest in 2012. His latest novel The House of Dolls is set in Amsterdam. He depicts is a very different city than I do in my book. In his story the police investigate the criminal underground of brothels and the drug trade, while mine takes place through the eyes of a homeless man on the outskirts of town. I’ll write more about the rising popularity of Amsterdam as a location for crime fiction. But next year I’m planning to attend Month of the Thriller, with Calvin’s Head in hand. And I’ll be back in New Orleans for Saints and Sinners, as well!